CDC Issues Interim Guidance for Essential Businesses to Address Workers with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 Exposure

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On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published new guidelines explaining how employees of essential businesses (or “critical infrastructure,” depending on which of the various local, state or federal orders/directives apply to your business) can return to work if they have been exposed to individuals with COVID-19 or otherwise suspect such exposure. Exposure means being in a household or having close contact within six (6) feet of an individual with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. The timeframe for such exposure extends back to forty-eight (48) hours before that individual became symptomatic.

This does not mean, though, that an employee may return to work if he or she is symptomatic or otherwise ill. Rather, if the employee is displaying no symptoms, he or she may return to work with certain limitations. According to the CDC guidance, precautions to be taken include:

  • Pre-Screening: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
  • Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program. If the employee becomes sick during the day, they must be sent home immediately. Additionally, information on persons who had contact with the ill employee during the time the employee had symptoms (including 48 hours prior to symptoms appearing) should be compiled by the employer. Others at the facility with close contact of the employee during this time are considered exposed.
  • Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
  • Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
  • Disinfect and Clean work spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

These precautions are guidelines; they are not the only measures that essential businesses should consider. The CDC also recommends other steps that may be taken such as the pilot testing of face masks, working with facility maintenance staff to increase air exchanges in internal spaces, and staggering breaks to minimize potential congestion in break rooms.

Also, bear in mind that the CDC’s updated guidance does not supplant state or local guidance or orders. For instance, SF Bay Area counties are recommending the use of face coverings when leaving home for essential travel and when persons are working at essential businesses. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has mandated that workers at essential business must wear masks and/or other appropriate face coverings. Similarly, San Diego County has ordered all grocery store, pharmacy, drug store, convenience store or gas station employees who may have contact with the public to wear a face covering as described in the applicable California Department of Public Health guidance (which is not mandatory for employers, employees or the public).

Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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